Star Trek: The Next Generation: Elementary, Dear Data   Rewatch 
July 10, 2020 8:57 AM - Season 2, Episode 3 - Subscribe

Data decides to out-LARP Picard on the holodeck in a Sherlock Holmes adventure that turns dangerous when Geordi botches a line of code.

My name is Memory Alpha. It is my business to know what other wikis don't know:

• According to Maurice Hurley, the idea for this episode was inspired by Data's experiences in "The Big Goodbye". Hurley stated, "It wasn't a writer saying, 'Let's do this.' It was one of the people living on the Enterprise."

• This episode contains elements from and references to the Sherlock Holmes short stories "A Scandal in Bohemia," "The Red-Headed League," "The Adventure of the Speckled Band," and "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans," as well as the Holmes novel The Valley of Fear. Furthermore, Moriarty's creation being a result of La Forge requesting an opponent capable of defeating Data references Arthur Conan Doyle's creation of the same character for the short story "The Final Problem" – specifically, as an opponent capable of defeating Sherlock Holmes who, at the time, Doyle wanted to kill off.

• The original ending filmed was cut from the episode. Maurice Hurley recalled, "In that ending, Picard knew how to defeat Moriarty. He tricked him. He knew all along that Moriarty could leave the holodeck whenever he wanted to, and he knew because when Data came out and showed him a drawing of the Enterprise, if that piece of paper could leave the holodeck, that means that the fail-safe had broken down. In turn, this means that the matter-energy converter which creates the holodeck, now allowed the matter to leave the holodeck, which was, up to that point, impossible. When he knew that paper had left the holodeck, he knew that Moriarty could as well, so he lied to him." This ending was removed by Gene Roddenberry, who claimed that it hurt Picard's character by making him look deceitful. Hurley disagreed, noting, "I thought it made him look clever, and since you are dealing with maybe the most profound criminal mind in literature, you've got to be careful."

• When given a choice of shows to direct, Rob Bowman chose this episode, as he was disappointed at missing out on the previous season's period show, "The Big Goodbye".

• Rob Bowman noted that this episode was "a huge production. They built that whole street from the ground up on stage. Indoors. It's an awesome episode." However, Bowman was angry with a cost-cutting decision to reduce the schedule for filming from eight to seven days. He remarked, "They made the shooting process one of the most unpleasant I've ever been through. I thought it almost killed the episode… Here was a show where we had all this great production value. Brent Spiner was about to do the best work I've ever seen him do. We had all these sets and they said seven days. I think that show is when I started to pull away from Star Trek, because I felt that it was a great opportunity to make a wonderful episode, and there was an arbitrary decision because the sets cost so much – I think $200,000 – where they said, 'We'll save money by taking a day off the schedule.' It's like, 'Wait a minute guys, first you have to take a day out of the script. You don't just take a day off the schedule to save $60,000.' As you can tell, I was pretty angry about it, and still have a little hostility towards what I went through on that show to make it happen."

• When the second program is started and Geordi asks for the arch, Moriarty is seen noticing the arch's existence. Holodeck creations would not notice this phenomenon. It would suggest that Moriarty had sentience before the actual program was created.

Daniel Davis reprises his role as Moriarty in the sixth season episode "Ship in a Bottle."

• At the time of filming, the producers believed that the Sherlock Holmes character was public domain. After the episode aired, the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle notified Paramount that they still retained a percentage of the rights to the character, and would require a usage fee if the character was used again. This legal issue delayed sequel episodes for nearly four years, at which time an agreement was reached for use of the character in "Ship in a Bottle".

"Your artificial friend doesn't have a prayer of solving a Holmes mystery that he hasn't read."
- Pulaski to La Forge after Data solves a Sherlock Holmes mystery rather quickly on the holodeck

"Why does it frighten you, Holmes?!"
- Moriarty, after he presents Data with a hand drawn Enterprise-D

"I do not want to die."
"And I do not want to kill you."
- Moriarty and Picard

Poster's Log:
You should know that I am somewhat of a Holmes nerd. I've read all the original stories (and a handful of derived works, such as The Seven Per Cent Solution by Trek's own Nicholas Meyer), I've studied some of the Doyle lore, and I've seen every installment of the Granada TV series with Jeremy Brett (the very best Holmes).

But I'm not so hardcore of a Sherlockian (the preferred term for U.S.-born enthusiasts; Holmesians are what the English ones call themselves, I'm told) that I can't enjoy both of the TNG Holmes episodes, though I very much prefer the second one. It's got a tighter, less hole-y, and less (for lack of a kinder term) indulgent story. And even though Spiner has a very Holmes-ish face, his vocal mannerisms as Holmes are just too much for me, and IIRC there's less of that in the second one.

That said, I sort of like the fact that LeVar Burton's English accent is so rough; it makes me think of D&D players, which is apt, since they're totally LARPing. And speaking of: Geordi's infuriated reaction to their first attempt at this program is totally on-point if you think of it as the equivalent of Geordi being the DM of a published adventure and Data reading the "DM's eyes only" parts; in essence, Data cheated, and Geordi obviously takes his holodeck time seriously.

Here is a rare case of Roddenberry's script intervention having been helpful in at least one respect: it would've been pretty bad for this franchise, I think, if it'd been established that the holodeck can assemble people that can then freely exist independent of the holodeck. Among other things, the TNG Moriarty episodes led directly to the EMH, arguably Voyager's best character.

Bernd at Ex Astris Scientia actually talked to the writer of this episode about the script changes, providing additional interesting background in Bernd's writeup for this episode (warning: spoilers at that link for Moriarty's return episode).

I only noticed for the first time on this rewatch that Moriarty is aware of the arch before Geordi gives his fateful instruction to the computer. That awareness doesn't necessarily prove that Moriarty is sentient before the program is altered, but the episode itself could be deliberately suggesting that. If so, then that oddity is neatly explained by the possibility (previously discussed in TNG FF) that the Bynars' holodeck modifications in "11001001" could've had lingering aftereffects. And, had any of the senior officers made that same connection, they might've shut down the ship's holodecks indefinitely, preventing lots of future problems. (Did Bynar alterations make it possible for Lt. Barclay to become Megamind-Barclay? READ THE BOOK.)

Daniel Davis is perfectly cast as the redeemable, likeable version of Moriarty; he's intense, confident, intellectual, edgy, yet charming. (And I never would've guessed that he doesn't normally have an English accent.) Conversely, the guy they cast in the Granada series is most perfectly cast on the basis of physical resemblance to the original woodcut illustrations from The Strand.

I will restrain myself from getting tiresome about other Holmesiana like how Holmes didn't wear the deerstalker in the city, which seems like something Data ought to have known. Those curious about the outcome of Doyle deciding to have Moriarty kill Holmes may read more here (note: the spoilers at THAT link are 117 years old).

Poster's Log, Supplemental:
Ensign Clancy will return in an important season 2 episode, "The Emissary," this time on the bridge and apparently on the command track. You might remember her actress Anne Elizabeth Ramsay (not to be confused with Anne Ramsey) from Mad About You or, in my case, A League of Their Own. (I suspect that, as a Trek guest actor, the only reason why she wasn't destined to also appear on Seinfeld is that her Mad About You character appears to have been a regular.)

"Greatest Generation" episode link.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (11 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Man, the first half of this episode was rough. Whenever the characters are going all-in on holodeck LARPing, or other off-duty extracurricular activities (doesn't Dr. Crusher get them all to do a play at some point?), I find it so cringe-tastic. Like, I know that the cast loved getting a chance for a costume change and some non-technobabble dialogue and out-of-character behavior, but it's just a big yikes for me. Like, it reminds me of the time when I was a teenager and a distant cousin from Australia came to visit -- he was an actor on a soap opera in Australia, and was going to LA in hopes of getting a break in Hollywood, and played part of his show reel for us on the VCR. Watching him emote/cry on the television while he sat there watching me watch him was the most awkward experience, just a full-body cringe of second-hand embarrassment. (Not to disparage him as an actor - I mean, I think he was kind of a big deal in Australia, and he was as gorgeous as you can imagine a 1980s Australian heartthrob would be, but it was like walking in on someone in the bathroom or unexpectedly naked, just "Earth, open and swallow me now please")

So, yeah, all the Data & Geordi Holmes & Watsoning stuff was just as awful as I remember it. But once they get into the Moriarty & Picard & what is sentience half of the episode, it's terrific.
posted by oh yeah! at 10:02 AM on July 10, 2020 [3 favorites]

You can't mention LARPing and Trek without mentioning LARP Trek...
posted by EndsOfInvention at 10:23 AM on July 10, 2020 [5 favorites]

I actually love it when they LARP on the show. It reminds me of a lot of people I know and enjoy, and I like it when we see show characters get enthused about a personal passion. I'm a little too tightly wound to really get into LARPing myself, but if there was a holodeck...
posted by Pryde at 10:36 AM on July 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

• When the second program is started and Geordi asks for the arch, Moriarty is seen noticing the arch's existence. Holodeck creations would not notice this phenomenon. It would suggest that Moriarty had sentience before the actual program was created.

I understand this is from Memory Alpha, but this take on what holodeck characters can be aware of is anachronistic in terms of when the episode went out. In "The Big Goodbye" Cyrus Redblock becomes aware of the world outside the holodeck. It wasn't even especially challenging for him to do so, IIRC.

You better believe there's cards of the episode from the Star Trek CCG:

Originally the game was based purely on TNG, and not any other iteration of Star Trek, and the sets were themed by things they could find a lot of in that series: so the first expansion is Alternate Universe(1995), the second is Q-Continuum(1996), and the third planned set was titled Holodeck Adventures, which would have come out in 1997.

However, The license agreement was changed due to the popularity of the game, so they could do cards from the movies, TOS, DS9, and Voyager. Holodeck Adventures got put on hold while cards from these other properties made it to circulation. A very different HA set was eventually released 2001 and included these:

Sherlock Holmes, an alternate persona of Data with more Holmsian skills, and a card drawing engine that pretty much made him an auto-include for non-Borg decks for quite some time. Being a persona would mean your other versions of Data couldn't enter play at the same time. Normally at least...

John Watson, the alternate persona of Geordi upgraded your card draw engine from Holmes. Not bad, but not as overpowered.

Last and least is Madam Pulaski, who's would score you extra points if you and your opponent have the same missions which...might happen. At least you could grab her directly out of your deck into play with the related Holoprogram card(which, like Moriarty himself, is taken from the followup episode)
posted by StarkRoads at 10:54 AM on July 10, 2020 [3 favorites]

We're still pretty early on in the (narrative) development of the holodeck here. The holocharacters as given in The Big Goodbye would constantly be getting confused by Holmes' complexion and Watson's VISOR. Now they seem to have some level of blinders, even if Moriarty is able to notice the arch beforehand (though perhaps there was already a kernel of a problem with Moriarty's code, if he had been expected to match wits with a Holmes-level intellect originally). Or it could've just been poor writing/editing.

Presumably the fact that the holodeck's operation still hasn't been fully fleshed out is part of the reason why they even came up with the stupid just walk off the holodeck original ending, though I'd have thought the world-building problems with that solution would still be pretty glaring even this early along.

The copyright status of Sherlock Holmes is a bit troublesome. Half a dozen of the stories are still in copyright (and at the time this episode was made, it was around a full dozen, thanks to extensions between then and now), but they're all stories written in the '20s that you've never heard of (in large part because they're under copyright). Since all of the Holmes references in this episode are from works that have entered the public domain they probably would've been fine if they had fought the Conan-Doyle estate (though it's only about 5 years ago that they got told off by the courts, and even that hasn't completely stopped them).

Relatedly, I always thought the final Holmes story was His Last Bow, since that was the last one in the supposedly complete CD-ROM collection we had in the 90s, but last year I decided I should get one of those big thick print collections and when I looked up what stories it should include was when I first found out about the dozen stories after His Last Bow, which still weren't included in almost all of the thick volumes I could find because they still haven't all made it out of copyright.
posted by ckape at 1:06 PM on July 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

I will admit that, not only had I not seen this episode before now, but that I was a little scornful of the idea, because it seemed to me to just be another riff off of the "Spock in a fedora" type of episode. There's nothing necessarily wrong with these cross-costumed eps, but it seems like over-reliance on them can result in yet another Western IN SPAAAAACE syndrome, and even as I started going back and watching TNG eps piecemeal, I was aware that there was this, and the gangster one, and the Robin Hood one, and yes, a Western, and I was in no particular hurry to get to them. (DS9 also did them, occasionally, but I got into more of a regular watching groove with that series, and they seemed to even poke fun at the concept, with O'Brien and Bashir stumbling out of the holosuite at random intervals, dressed as RAF pilots or ancient Irish warriors, for a quick drink before jumping back into the fray, or Kira turning out to be the kind of Guinevere who has no time for Lancelot's bullshit.) So, I went into this knowing that Moriarty becomes self-aware, but not a lot more than that.

I loved it. The second half of the episode (as oh yeah! points out above) is the real payoff, but the first half sets it up quite well. It makes perfect sense that Data doesn't get that he shouldn't just shout out the answer, because that's how Data is--he is the kind of guy who has to be told to stop answering a question with the equivalent of the full Wikipedia article. And the interim solution--creating a "new" Sherlock Holmes adventure from bits of previous adventures--mirrors the show's tendency to repeat plots and plot elements from TOS; the ep immediately previous to this one had elements of both "The Immunity Syndrome" and the plots in which a superior alien intelligence tests or experiments with the crew. (This episode is very metatextual.) And, just as a character on the show who isn't originally meant to be much but turns out to have a lot of potential can really break out (such as Worf, who is IMO the only (and minor) disappointment of the ep--he gets all dressed up, but has no place to go in Victorian London), Moriarty wants to be more than just a more-clever-than-usual foil for a gold-skinned Holmes. His conversations with both Pulaski and Picard about his growing knowledge of the truth behind the reality of his existence and his desire simply to be allowed to exist were heartfelt and moving. Bluntly, I liked this a lot more than "The Measure of a Man"--and, boy, won't I have a lot to say about that when we get to it. Very much looking forward to "Ship in a Bottle."

You can't mention LARPing and Trek without mentioning LARP Trek...

Love it. Whatever happened to the author?

posted by Halloween Jack at 7:44 PM on July 10, 2020 [3 favorites]

Love it. Whatever happened to the author?

Right? Just disappeared into this message board one day...
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 10:17 PM on July 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

I thought that I hated holodeck episodes but they've all been pretty good so far? Helps that they're not trapped there for some improbable reason, and although they do play the "pretend weapons can kill you" card, it doesn't really factor in the plot. And Moriarty is great! It's Roy Batty meets Tyrell with less murder.
posted by rodlymight at 10:22 AM on July 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

The thing about holodeck episodes is that here they're still novel. In like one more season- they become cliche.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 10:46 AM on July 11, 2020

My grandmother strongly disapproved of this episode, she watched Star Trek to see spaceships, dammit.

I on the other hand, love this one, and think it holds up really well even though I’ve seen it a bunch. Levar Burton shines here (have we had a real Geordie episode yet?), he is just so darned charming, and his frustration with Data, it really feels like long time friends having a good-natured but serious argument. Perfect D&D analogy, CoB.

I really loved the resolution of this, much better than the original described above. Though it only makes sense with the refined, gentle villain that they made Moriarty.
posted by skewed at 12:50 PM on July 11, 2020 [2 favorites]

Laugh line of the episode: Moriarty refers to "Mister Computer" several times. Presumably because Majel Barret had the day off....
posted by StarkRoads at 5:00 PM on July 13, 2020

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